You don't see too many games with no penalties. Of course, you also don't see too many games where the defensemen look like they're playing freeze-tag. In the first period, that's how it looked on both sides. The Oilers opened the scoring when Jordan Eberle cashed a beautiful touch pass from Dion Phaneuf. The Leafs followed that with two of their own, one off a brutal Corey Potter giveaway and another that involved Anton Lander, Lennart Petrell, and Cam Barker watching in awe as one of the gods skated by. But the Leafs weren't trying to show anyone up in the first, so it was only fair that they make an absolutely ridiculous line change to allow the Oilers to even the score on a delightful tic-tac-toe play involving Taylor Hall, Jeff Petry, and Jordan Eberle, who netted his second of the night.
It was a fun night of offense for all!
Until it wasn't. The Oilers outchanced the Leafs through one, but in the last two periods they were outchanced 15-7 and outscored 3-1, and my oh my, that's exactly what it looked like. The Leafs sanded down the rough edges between periods with a pumice stone, while the Oilers lopped off an arm in an effort to be the best that they can be. The arm in question belongs to a young phenom, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. You may have heard of him? Well, it turns out he was coming back from a shoulder injury, and in his second game back, seems to have re-injured it on a pretty routine play. No word on seriousness yet, but with the Oilers in the thick of the playoff race, we can at least take solace in the fact that the Black Knight standard of medicine was used with good reason.
Some observations on specific plays and players after the jump.
Notes from the First Period:
- Jeff Petry started off a night of gaffes from the defensemen with a horrid giveaway about two and a half minutes into the game. He made some nice plays too (his contribution on the Oilers' second goal springs to mind), but that kind of huge defensive blunder followed by a great scoring chance was a sign of things to come.
- Ryan Whitney is clearly still having mobility issues, but his passing skills are still top notch. On one play with about 9:30 to go in the period, he made a pass from the defensive zone that hit Hemsky in stride through the neutral zone, which gave Hemmer a chance to make a play one-on-one. With about 4:30 to go, we got to see both sides of the equation, as I leaned in tentatively to get the puck, but then followed that with an excellent break-out pass. Even if his mobility never gets back to what it was (and it seems likely that it won't), Whitney's other abilities will likely keep him in the NHL.
- It was Tom Gilbert's first game back, and it showed. He wasn't as bad as Cam Barker (obviously), but there were a couple of troublesome moments that will probably happen a few more times as he gets back into the groove. One example of what I'm talking about happened with about 3:45 to go. Gilbert misjudged a puck badly and it allowed Matt Lombardi to push the puck past him for a breakaway.
- Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is a great player, but he still has a lot to learn. That really came to the forefront on the Leafs' first goal of the period. He clearly identified Phil Kessel as his check early on in the sequence. When Kessel went around the net, Nugent-Hopkins tried to come across to meet him, but Kessel beat him to the spot, as did a very nice pass, and the puck was quickly in the back of the net. Nugent-Hopkins was noticeably frustrated after the play, so I know he'll be working extra hard to correct the mistakes. It's all about the body language.
- Cam Barker is a terrible player, and he isn't learning. That really came to the forefront on the Leafs' second goal of the period, which was so bad that it was funny. Seriously. I laughed at how bad it was.
- Joffrey Lupul is a pretty frustrating player to watch when he's on your team, and those same things make him frustrating to watch when he's on the other team. On Edmonton's only goal of the period, the Oilers lost the faceoff, but the puck worked its way back to Petry for a shot from the point with traffic in front. Of course, it was classic Lupul. He didn't make it to his spot along the boards, which is why the Leaf pass ended up on Petry's stick, and then he didn't get in the shooting lane, which is why the puck got through to the net. Then Lupul scored a few minutes later. So frustrating.
- I've wanted to see a vintage Ales Hemsky game for a while now. Tonight I did. Except that it came from Mikhail Grabovski. That guy was awesome. I could've written about him for any of these three periods because he was fantastic in each one. He opened this period with a dash down the wing for a scoring chance, and with about 5:20 left in the game, he actually reminded me a lot of Hemsky when he circled the puck around the net to set up another. Beauty player.
- I know that the Oilers were trying to come from behind but Phil Kessel caught Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid napping on two different occasions in this period alone. The second one came with about 6:35 to go, and it wasn't because the defenders were pinching at the line. Both guys were hanging back in the neutral zone, but they still lost track of Kessel. Apparently the GM isn't the only one who needs to work on communicating.
- Jordan Eberle had another great game. One of his more subtle skills is puck protection with a man on him. With about 4:45 to go, Eberle had the puck along the wall and had a defender all over him. He managed to maintain control of the puck with his body position, and when a second Leaf came down to help, make a quick tape-to-tape pass to the open point. He's one of the guys that make this losing team worth watching.